Saturday, June 7, 2008

A Professor's Perspective on Agricultural Biotechnology

By: James Wachai
Last week, I bumped into a blog entry by Stephen Zavestoski. Mr. Zavestocki authors the blog, The Curious, and is an Associate Professor and Chair, Sociology and Environmental Studies, the University of San Francisco.

In his latest post entitled, “Monsanto: Africa's Johnny Appleseed?” Mr. Zavestocki questions the company’s motive of introducing Combi-pack “a package containing hybrid maize seed, fertilizer and herbicide …” to African farmers. At the end of the post, Mr. Zavestocki prays that “…Monsanto is developing a Combi-pack for India's farmers.”

I must confess that I didn’t successfully decipher Mr. Zavestocki’s motive for authoring this blog. But I suspect that he was motivated by tendencies by anti-technology activists (Mr. Zavestocki swears he is not an anti-technology activist) to criticize multinational biotech corporations.

Upon reading this post I did make a comment, not in defense of the company mentioned, but to vigorously defend Africa’s right to experiment on emerging agricultural technologies, key among them biotechnology. This is what I wrote:

"I really can't understand why people like you make noise when companies like Monsanto, DuPont, Sygenta seek African markets for GMOs. Critics of genetically modified food like you seem to be at home when Monsanto and others sell their high yielding genetically modified seeds to American, Mexican, Chinese, Spanish, Argentineans, name them, farmers. I see nothing wrong with Africa experimenting on genetically modified crops. After all, Africans have and continue to eat genetically modified foods from America. America is, perhaps, the largest donor of relief food. American laws dictate that all relief food must be requisitioned locally. And it happens that most crops grown in the US are genetically modified. What's wrong with Africa growing its own genetically modified crops instead of relying on the US. I have not heard of any America rush to ER for consuming genetically modified food. And no scientist, to date, has produced a scientific report attesting to the dangers of genetically modified food. All this fuss about Monsanto and other multinational biotech companies attempting to dominate Africa's agriculture is too much ado about nothing. And by the way, we Africans don't need anti-technology activists from the West to tell us what's good or bad for us to eat. Apparently, the noisiest gang on gmos, itself eat them day in day out. James GMO Africa Blog"

Mr. Zavestocki, in an email, shot back. And because there was no disclaimernot to share the content of his email with a third party, I hereby republishit:

"Dear James,

Thank you for your comment on my post at The CuriousStall. I have never been to Africa, and although I do my best to buy and eatonly organic (i.e., non-GMO) food, it is inevitable that I consume food thatcame from GMO grains. So you are right, I am in no position to tell Africanswhat kind of crops they should or should not plant, and I hope that my post didnot sound as if this was my intent. Also, you may be right that no one has diedof a disease related to eating food from GMO crops. In terms of human health andthe environment, my concerns have to do with long-term impacts, and GMOs simplyhave not been around long enough for us to know what their impacts will be. Asfor Africans consuming the GMO grains the U.S. gives as relief, there have beencases of African countries rejecting shipments from the U.S. because theycontain GMOs. I'm thinking of Zambia, which rejected GMO maize from the U.S. in2002. I think GMO seeds have some potential promise, but I would like to seebiotech companies find ways to integrate the use of these seeds into existingagricultural systems. Too often the industrial, and therefore very expensive,nature of GMO-based farming means that small-scale farmers ( e.g., less than 4hectares) are either forced to embrace more energy, labor, and land intensivefarming practices or to sell what little land they have.So, ultimately, for me,it is about the use of power. And biotech companies misuse their power in manyinstances in order to ensure markets for their products. I cannot say whetherthis has happened in Africa, not having visited there and not having readsufficiently about the use of GMOs in Africa. But in India, I know that this hasbeen the case. I hope you read my words with an open mind, and know that I amnot an anti-technology activist. I am someone who is deeply concerned about theimpact that the American way of life is having on people around the world. And Iam equally concerned with finding ways to help people in the developing parts ofthe world live healthier and happier lives. Peace, Steve"

What comes out of Mr. Zavestocki’s e-mail is that some people still nurture phobia against biotechnology companies, especially those operating in developing countries. Such is unnecessary. Developing countries must be allowed to make independent decisions on whether to reject or admit new agricultural technologies

James uses his communication expertise to create awareness about GM food. To read more about him, go to

Article Source:

No comments: